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European action on stress at work

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The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has launched a campaign against work-related stress, said to be the second biggest occupational health problem in the European Union after back pain, affecting over 40 million employees in the EU.

According to a number of major studies, work-related stress affects nearly one-in-three (28%) workers in the EU’s 15 member states. Women report the highest levels, but for both sexes stress can be a problem in all sectors and at all levels of an organisation. One of the most common causes is lack of control at work. 35% of employees, for instance, say they have no say in the order of their tasks and 55% claim no influence over how long they work. Monotony, tight deadlines (29% of staff claim to work regularly to these) and bullying are some of the other factors that enter the equation.

The human costs are significant. It is estimated that 16% of male and 22% of female cardiovascular diseases in the EU are due to work-related stress. Other diseases and conditions associated with this issue include musculoskeletal disorders and mental health problems.

The economic costs are equally large. Between 50% and 60% of absenteeism, for instance, has been related to work-related stress. Together with allied health costs, the total annual bill to the EU is estimated to be around €20 billion, not to mention loss of productivity.

The Agency’s campaign will raise awareness of the risks of work-related stress and suggest effective solutions through a range of media. This will include comprehensive information packs in all 11 EU languages, posters, leaflets and a multilingual website.

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